Tag Archives: Great Fire of Rome

To Be Continued….

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
Acts 28:30 (NIV)

It’s always frustrating when a television series that I love comes to an untimely end. There have been a number of shows over the years that I wish had continued. What makes it even more frustrating when a smart, intelligent show gets cancelled is all of the mindless schlock that seems to perpetuate itself for decades.

As an amateur writer, I’m always fascinated how the writers and producers handle a show’s storyline once they know the show has been cancelled. Many shows are written from the beginning to contain multiple story lines or “arcs.” This allows for there to be a sense of closure after one season, or a part of a season, while leaving other story arcs open to lead into future seasons. So, what happens when the writing team is told that they only have two episodes to wrap things up for good?

I’ve observed that some try to wrap up all of the loose ends, which leaves things feeling clunky, because not all of the story arcs have been fully fleshed out. Some introduce a tragic end to the protagonist which allows for a reason that the series has ended. Much like the untimely end of a loved one in real life, this option leaves viewers grieving for what “might have been.” Sometimes the writers simply let the series end without ever trying to give viewers closure. This, in turn, reminds me of Wendy.

Wendy has always been an avid reader. She tells me that when she was a young girl she never wanted to put a book down in the middle because she was afraid the story would go on without her. Instead of “to be continued” the next time she picked up the book, she feared that the story wouldn’t wait for her.

I mention this because in today’s final chapter of the book of Acts we find Paul arriving in Rome to wait for his trial with the Roman Emperor, Nero. The tension of the story has been building as Paul appeals his case to Caesar and makes an epic journey, including shipwreck, to Rome. In this final chapter, Luke tells us that Paul rented his own place, was allowed to live a relatively free existence with his Centurion guard. He met with the local Jewish population. He “welcomed all” who came to see him and continued to proclaim the Message of Jesus.

And then it ends, as if the show suddenly got cancelled. Luke simply leaves the storyline there, and we must assume that his historical narrative, penned for a man named Theophilus, was wrapped up and sent off at this point. Luke leaves the rest of the story open because it hadn’t happened yet.

The rest of Paul’s story is left for us to piece together from the writings of early Christians and Roman historians. In July 64 AD the “Great Fire of Rome” broke out for six days. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus, only four of Rome’s 14 districts escaped damage. Nero blamed the fire on Christians and immediately set out to persecute them. It is documented that Nero had both Paul and Peter executed, which is consistent with his persecution of Jesus’ followers. The exact dates and the specifics surrounding the events and executions were not well documented at the time.

In the quiet this morning I’m smiling as I think of a young, curly-haired Wendy, with her nose in a book, convinced that the story will go on without her. Indeed, as the story of Acts comes to an abrupt, even unsatisfying end, I’m meditating on the fact that the story did go on. We know that Paul was executed and that the Message of Jesus continued to spread despite horrific persecution. The story continued, and continues to this day. Having taken up the mantel of faith in my youth, I am a part of the same story; Just a wayfaring stranger traveling through this particular story arc, in this particular chapter, during this particular point in the epic.

I only hope that I to play my part as faithfully and as well as those in Acts who led the way.

Have a great day, my friend.

Trial by Fire

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer
The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 2 Timothy 1:15-16 (NIV)

When Paul writes his second letter to his young protege, Timothy, he is in prison for the second time in Rome. The first imprisonment was five years earlier. Paul had used his Roman citizenship to appeal his arrest to Caesar and had been afforded a rather comfortable arrangement in which he was under house arrest in a rented house. He was released in 62 A.D. but was imprisoned again four years later. Now it was a completely different story. The political climate had radically changed.

Two years after Paul’s release from his House Arrest in Rome, the city of Rome was destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome. The city burned for days and countless people were dead. Ten of the fourteen Roman districts were destroyed. Many accused Emporer Nero of setting the fire himself in order to clear land for his palatial complex. Rumor spread that Nero himself played his lyre and performed on stage, unconcerned, while the city burned. His approval ratings plummeted, and he did what all politicians do when they don’t want to face up to their own failings: find someone to attack and deflect the blame. In Nero’s case, he blamed Christians. Roman historians say that Nero fed Christians to wild dogs and crucified others. He also had Christian dipped into oil, then burned alive to provide light for his garden at night.

When Paul was imprisoned in Rome once again in 66 A.D., Nero’s persecution of Christians was well underway. The fact that Paul was a Roman citizen no longer provided political protection. Paul was an outspoken follower and proponent of Jesus, and that trumped the clout of citizenship as Rome daily tried to rebuild itself out of the ashes. There would be no comfortable house arrest. This time, Paul was thrown into a deep Roman dungeon to rot and suffer.

Now read the verses above once more. Can you imagine why others were abandoning, Paul? He was a pariah. At best, anyone associated with Paul could likely face being thrown into the dungeon with Paul for being a fellow Christian. At worst, they could be put on the schedule to be a human candle in Nero’s garden. Paul is feeling lonely and abandoned. The only person who appeared willing to associate with Paul was Onesiphorus from Ephesus who sought Paul out in his dungeon on a trip to Rome.

I found it interesting that Paul refers to “shame” multiple times in today’s chapter. He encourages Timothy not to be ashamed of following Jesus. Paul is not ashamed of his chains or suffering for his faith in Jesus, but he obviously feels the shame and abandonment of those he considered friends but abandoned him. He’s thankful that Onesiphorus was not ashamed of associating with him.

Today, I’m thinking about the relative ease with which I can be a follower of Jesus. Yes, there are times of being unfairly labeled, misunderstood, and politically skewered. But seriously, some of that is the direct result of the foolish and misguided words, attitudes and actions of Christians themselves. I can easily forgive that and I’m not really suffering in any tangible way. When your life is on the line, it is a true test of what you really believe. What would I be willing to suffer and die for? Would I have been Hermogenes keeping a comfortable distance, or would I have been Onesiphorus throwing caution to the wind to visit and show a little love to Paul?

I’d like to boast that I would be Onesiphorus, but in my heart I know that I have never been tested like that. My honest answer: I pray I would not be ashamed like Paul and Onesiphorus, but I confess that until my very life is on the line, I’m not sure I can say with certainty. I enter my day grateful to live in peace and freedom with blessing beyond measure.